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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/30/20

WHO Adviser on Meat Plants: If We're at War, the Weapons We Need Are Tests and PPE, Not Pork

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As President Trump invokes the Defense Production Act to bar local governments from closing meatpacking plants around the United States, we get response from a longtime adviser to the World Health Organization. "When Congress passed that act, it certainly did not have in mind that the president has the power or the right to put workers' lives and health at risk," says Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Center on National and Global Health Law. Gostin also discusses why he joined 40 leading center directors in a declaration this week that urges Trump and Congress to restore and increase WHO funding.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. This week, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to bar local governments from closing meatpacking plants around the United States. His executive order comes as U.S. beef, pork and poultry processing plants are linked to areas with the highest rates of coronavirus transmission in the country. Topping the list is a region around Sioux City, Iowa, where confirmed coronavirus cases are more than doubling every day, with outbreaks at a massive Tyson Foods beef plant and a Seaboard Triumph Foods pork plant. Trump's order declares meat plants critical infrastructure. He announced it on Workers' Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed or disabled on the job. At least 20 meatpacking workers have died from COVID-19. Thousands have fallen ill from the disease.

This comes as federal guidelines for social distancing are set to expire today, leaving states to determine their plans for reopening. The Iowa governor, Kim Reynolds, has threatened workers who don't want to return to work because of the coronavirus, saying they will not receive unemployment benefits. Nebraska workers also risk losing unemployment if they refuse to turn to their jobs. This is Trump responding to a reporter in the Oval Office Wednesday.

REPORTER: Mr. President, what can you do to help businesses with liability issues as workers come back in states that have opened up?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, as you know, we just worked with the meat processors, and if you think about it, a form of delivery. We have tremendous product. We have ample supply. But there was a bottleneck caused by this whole pandemic, and it was pretty it was potentially pretty serious. And I just got off the phone with the biggest in the world, I mean, the biggest distributors there are, the big companies that you've been reading about. They are so thrilled. They're so happy. They're all gung-ho. And we solved their problems. We unblocked some of the bottlenecks.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, quote, "We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork, and poultry products."

Well, for more, we're joined by Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, directs the World Health Organization Center on National and Global Health Law and has served as a senior adviser to the WHO for three decades. He is also the global editor for JAMA. That's The Journal of the American Medical Association. He's joining us from his home in Washington, D.C.

Lawrence Gostin, interestingly, last time you joined us on Democracy Now! several years ago, it was to discuss the Obama administration caving to the meat lobby in its dietary guidelines despite World Health Organization findings that processed meat can cause cancer. I want to welcome you back to Democracy Now! In a minute, we're going to ask you about Trump's attack on the World Health Organization, removing its funding. But right now I want to ask you about this massive decision he has made. As thousands of workers have taken ill with COVID-19, President Trump issues this executive order saying states cannot close meatpacking plants. Talk about the significance of this.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Yeah. Well, let me remember, the Defense Production Act was really to kind of marshal our production for kind of a warlike state. And so, if you think about, you know, if we're in a war now, the weapons we need is not meat and pork. The weapons we actually need are testing equipment, ventilators, and particularly personal protective equipment for our brave health workers, our doctors and nurses and other staff in hospitals. So that's what the act should be used for, not for producing actually quite unhealthy products like beef and pork. But that's even a sideshow. The real thing --

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